Smoothie King Center to be unveiled at Thursday press conference (2/5/14)

Vice president of digital media for New Orleans Pelicans.

Smoothie King Center to be unveiled at Thursday press conference

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

Upon purchasing Smoothie King in July 2012, Wan Kim immediately debated whether he should keep the Louisiana-based company’s headquarters in the New Orleans area, with larger Southern cities including Atlanta and Dallas looming as attractive destinations. However, after learning more about his new employees – many of whom are longtime Crescent City residents – Kim eventually realized that the best place for Smoothie King was where it began in 1973.

Kim’s decision to stay mirrored that of New Orleans’ NBA franchise, which has weathered significant adversity during the past decade to cement itself as a permanent fixture in the Pelican State. The team even renamed itself the “Pelicans” in April 2013.

Kim and the New Orleans Pelicans now have something else in common: Starting Thursday, the basketball team’s 17,000-seat home venue will be known as the “Smoothie King Center.” The Pelicans and Smoothie King will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Thursday to announce that they’ve reached a 10-year agreement on naming rights for the facility, which has been home to the local NBA franchise since 2002. It opened in 1999.

The Smoothie King Center will host the 2014 NBA All-Star Game next week providing national and international exposure for the company. The Pelicans' first game in the re-named facility will be Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a game which will be broadcast by ESPN, providing an immediate jolt of national exposure for Smoothie King.

“This is a touching moment for me, because not only did we decide not to move out, but we are telling (everyone) that our roots are here,” the Korean-born Kim said of the naming-rights agreement. “This emphasizes that. New Orleans is my second hometown. I’m proud of it.”

“It’s a product that started in Louisiana and has a long tradition,” said Rita Benson LeBlanc, Pelicans Owner/Vice Chairman of the Board. “The area charmed (Kim) into keeping the headquarters here. That’s a huge commitment. There is no more perfect story to say how businesses can root themselves in New Orleans and grow. We couldn’t have been more excited about having a naming-rights partner of this caliber.”

LeBlanc also thanked Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Economic Development and Greater New Orleans, Inc., for their roles in helping facilitate the multi-year agreement. Smoothie King, the company that created the original nutritional smoothie when it was founded in ’73 in Metairie, currently has 674 franchises, operating in 31 states. Like the NBA and the Pelicans, it’s become a global brand, with franchises located in four countries.

“This was an absolutely natural fit,” Smoothie King President Tom O’Keefe said of the partnership. “This brings so many natural alignments for all of us, including the city, region, state, the NBA, the Pelicans organization, Benson family, our employees, our franchisees, our guests, team members. This is going to have many impacts. We are super excited about it.”

For the Pelicans, the naming-rights deal marks the successful completion of a project that had been years in the making, dating to when the NBA initially returned to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season. The Pelicans were one of just three current NBA teams without a naming-rights deal for its home venue.

“It’s gigantic,” team president Dennis Lauscha said of the impact on the Pelicans. “You have to put into perspective what’s happened to this franchise in the last two years, and what’s happened since it moved to New Orleans. For many years, this franchise was trying to get a naming-rights partner, but had not been very successful. Finding a naming-rights partner was key to the long-term financial viability of this franchise in this market. We put it right up there on top of the list of things that had to be accomplished. We think it’s great for the city and great for our team.”

In 2011, the Saints’ home stadium also gained a naming-rights partner, when the NFL team’s iconic venue was renamed as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The facility hosted Super Bowl XLVII in February 2013 and the 2012 Final Four, among countless other showcase sporting events.

“It reinforces our commitment to New Orleans,” said Jean-Paul Dardenne, Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for the Pelicans and Saints. “Now we have two major franchises (as sponsors for the teams’ home buildings). That puts us up there and shows the sports world that we are a big player. It reinforces the entire organization’s commitment to the city.”